Bowie the koala’s eyes stun Aussie vets

SYDNEY (AFP): With one bright blue eye and one brown, a koala with a rare condition has dazzled vets in Australia who have named her Bowie after the late singer. The marsupial was recently admitted to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital north of Brisbane after apparently being hit by a car, with vets stunned to find she had different coloured eyes — much like David Bowie’s.  The extremely rare condition is known as heterochromia, which the hospital said was the result of a recessive gene inherited from her parents affecting the pigmentation in her iris.  “Bowie’s heterochromia doesn’t affect how she sees the world around her, in fact her eyesight is great, exactly what we like to see in a young koala,” treating vet Sharon Griffiths said Tuesday, adding that Bowie had a bruised leg.

“Apart from being extremely lucky in avoiding injury on the road, she’s also incredibly unique as heterochromia isn’t a common occurrence in koalas; it’s more often found in domestic mammal species such as dogs and cats.”

The condition is similar to the one that helped define the look of Bowie the singer, who died from cancer earlier this year.

The British star was widely reported to have anisocoria, characterised by an unequal size in his pupils, giving the illusion of different coloured eyes.



Rare Indian rhinos face growing threat from poachers

KAZIRANGA (AFP): As night falls over the lush plains of India’s Kaziranga national park, a small group of lightly armed forest guards sets out on foot to protect the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos. These men with their ageing rifles and small plastic torches are on the front line of the battle against increasingly sophisticated international poaching networks that prey on the rare animals, entering the park under cover of darkness to kill them for their horns. A decade ago, India had all but declared victory over poaching in Kaziranga, a 430-square-kilometre (166-square-mile) protected area of forest in the northeastern state of Assam that is home to around 2,500 rhinos. But recent years have seen an alarming upsurge in the slaughter of the animals, whose horn is highly prized in neighbouring China and in Vietnam.




Van Gogh’s ‘suicide gun’ on display at Amsterdam museum

THE HAGUE (AFP): Amsterdam’s renowned Van Gogh Museum unveiled a new exhibition Tuesday focusing on Vincent’s final 18 months of mental anguish before he shot himself in 1890, including the suspected gun he used in his suicide. Called “On the Verge of Insanity”, the exhibition seeks to answer questions like why Van Gogh cut off his ear, and the precise nature of his mental illness that ultimately led to his death in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris at the age of 37. One of the most interesting exhibition pieces is the small-calibre revolver believed to have been the actual weapon Van Gogh used to shoot himself in the chest. “The small, badly corroded revolver from a private collection and being shown for the first time, might be the weapon with which Van Gogh sought to end his life,” the Van Gogh Museum said.

Vincent shot himself on July 29, 1890 and managed to stumble back to the inn where he was staying before succumbing to his wound 30 hours later. At the time the suicide weapon was not found.

Around 1960 an Auvers farmer working on his land discovered the rusty gun, a 7.0 mm pocket revolver of the “Lefaucheux a broche” type in the fields where Van Gogh shot himself.

“The degree of corrosion suggested that the weapon lay in the ground for 50-60 years,” the museum said in a statement.

“Its limited firepower offers a possible explanation why the bullet fired at close range glanced off Van Gogh’s rib,” it added.

“The bullet was deflected downwards and was lodged too deep to be removed without danger, as a result of which Van Gogh died of his wound some 30 hours later.”

Another fascinating exhibition piece is a recently-discovered letter from doctor Felix Rey, the physician who treated Van Gogh in hospital after he cut off his left ear while living in the southern French town of Arles.

“Rey’s letter includes drawings showing that Van Gogh cut off the whole of his left ear and not, as was long believed, just part of it,” the museum said.

“The discovery brings to an end a long-standing biographical question,” it added.

Van Gogh’s portrait of Rey is also on display for the first time at the museum, as well as a raft of previously unexhibited documents about his illness.

“On the Verge of Insanity” however shows that Van Gogh’s art “ought not to be viewed as a product of his illness, but arose in spite of his condition,” the museum said.

The exhibition runs from July 15 to September 25.




Thieves get Taiwan cash machines to churn out $2m

TAIPEI (AFP): Thieves suspected of installing a computer programme that got cash machines in Taiwan to churn out more than $2 million were being hunted by police on Tuesday, officials said. The masked robbers ransacked more than 30 ATMs at the Taipei-based First Commercial Bank, walking away “with bags packed with cash”, the bank said in a statement. It suggested that a malware programme may have been installed on the ATMs, adding that the suspects stole the money without having to operate the machines directly. Surveillance images showed “two men wearing face masks and hats walking away with bags packed with cash directly withdrawn from ATMs”, First Commercial said in the statement. At least two suspects were involved — one Russian man, and another foreign suspect whose nationality remains unknown, according to Taipei police.



New Zealand kebab shop owner blanks armed robber

WELLINGTON (AFP): A New Zealand kebab shop owner who ignored a pistol-wielding, would-be robber and continued to serve his customers has insisted “I’m not a hero” after footage of his actions went viral. Said Ahmed said he decided to call the bluff of a robber wearing a black hoodie and face mask who burst into the Egyptian Kebab House in Christchurch late in the evening. In extraordinary CCTV footage released by Canterbury police, the robber shakes a sports bag in Ahmed’s face with one hand and points a pistol at him with the other. Instead of filling the bag with cash, Ahmed continues to pack the souvlaki he was working on and turns his back on the gunman to pick up some plastic cutlery and a napkin. He then calmly reaches around the robber to hand the meal to a customer, who accepts it and warily backs away. As Ahmed walks off to the kitchen, the gunman stands at the counter for a few seconds, not knowing what to do, then takes his bag and shuffles off somewhat sheepishly. Footage of the May 28 incident has been viewed almost 140,000 times, with commentators labelling Ahmed “the chillest chip shop operator ever”.

He said the robber demanded money but his first thought was serving his customer and his reaction wrong-footed the gunman.

“He didn’t scare me... he was surprised from my reaction,” he told Fairfax New Zealand.

“I was sure he would not shoot me. He came to rob me, not to kill me.”

Ahmed, who migrated to New Zealand from Egypt 20 years ago, said it was the first incident of its kind in the 15 years he has owned the kebab shop.

“When he had gone my heart was beating hard,” he told the New Zealand Herald, saying he “thanks God” for guiding him during the robbery.

The 55-year-old said he now closed his shop earlier and advised his children “be a little brave — life can change in a few seconds”.

Police said they were still seeking the gunman.